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RE: [agile-usability] Business Goals

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  • Larry Constantine
    Alain wrote ... Good point. It so light weight that it is easily lost as we try to be more disciplined and comprehensive. Actually Lucy and I used to
    Message 1 of 7 , Apr 4 3:19 PM
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      Alain wrote

      > The concept of Business Goals is pretty simple to grasp, and it seems that
      > defining them for a particular system would be a pretty lightweight thing
      > to do. Yet, this idea does not seem to have been explictly articulated and
      > stated by people like Larry Constantine and Alan Cooper.

      Good point. It' so light weight that it is easily lost as we try to be more
      "disciplined" and "comprehensive." Actually Lucy and I used to begin with
      the "essential purposes" of a system/project but gradually shifted focus to
      understanding users and tasks.

      Back to basics!

      (We actually do bring in business goals in terms of prioritizing user roles
      and tasks, but nothing like the clarity of spelling it out up front.)

      --Larry
    • Jeff Patton
      To pipe in, this is where I found the techniques of Usage Centered Design so helpful - in particular the concept of focal user roles and focal tasks. The
      Message 2 of 7 , Apr 4 11:39 PM
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        To pipe in, this is where I found the techniques of Usage Centered Design so helpful – in particular the concept of focal user roles and focal tasks.  The questions I ask to identify focal roles and tasks [which I sure I learned from Larry & Lucy] where “of these user roles, which are critical to the success of this software.”

         

        Critical is a funny thing. 

         

        One of my gripes about agile approaches is this silly notion of prioritizing user stories by business value.  In most Agile contexts I’ve participated in it usually boils down to a subjective judgment on the part of stakeholders – or possibly a squeaky-wheel decision – story prioritized high to satisfy the most vocal user constituency.

         

        Prioritization happens against a backdrop of some business goals.  And, oddly I find that on many agile projects those goals aren’t articulated – at all.  They’re often considered obvious, until you attempt to write them down.  A few hours of discussion later, you’ll see how not-obvious they were.

         

        And my wise friend Alistair Cockburn always reminds me that software is always written for at least two people – the one behind the keyboard, and the one who paid for the software to be built.  He doesn’t say it exactly that way, but the point is that software needs to both satisfy the user, and guarantee the interest of some stakeholders.  

         

        I promise I’ll come to a conclusion here eventually.

         

        Prioritization of user stories happens against a backdrop of an understanding of user goals, and business goals.  It was from Larry & Lucy that I first learned the value of simple models that encapsulate my understanding.  To model business goals lately I’ve been using an approach my friend Julias pointed me to: GQM – short for goal question metric.  [Google around and you’ll find lots of references including a pricy Forrester Research report and an somewhat expensive book.]  Basically, if you have a business goal, ask “how would you know you were reaching this goal?”  Poke the goal long enough with questions and you’ll realize it’s either a dumb goal, or it’ll mutate into one that has some metrics that will help you understand how the goal is being reached.  A collection of goals with metrics makes up my business goal model.  The list is prioritized – or rather there are focal goals.  To understand users I’ll build both user role models and task models.  I’ll then ask stakeholder using the backdrop of the goal model to identify focal roles and tasks.  It’s much easier to identify the users the software needs to satisfy with the goal model visible.  I’ve found it makes the whole process go smoother.

         

        Finally, when if comes down to prioritizing small bits of the system under development written up in user stories, knowing what user the story serves, what task that user is engaged in, and what business goal the story is in support of helps immensely.  Arguments about priority dissipate quickly with these models that distill our understanding.  

         

        To bind in with Larry’s earlier post – “the abuse of usage,” usability testing is an important thing.  But it’s a part of a much bigger thing.  I suggest to people that they let lots of crappy, buggy, semi-usable software ship.  I do it myself.  The trick is knowing when we can get away with it and when we can’t.  Again, it boils down to these sorts of models and the guidance they give.  Don’t skimp on parts of the software used for focal users engaged in focal tasks that by definition – because they’re focal – are critical to the business goals of the software.  But for not so focal users engaged in infrequent tasks, barely sufficient is the rule.  I’ve met many usability people that look for usability at any cost.  That’s just not practical – not with my money or my customer’s money.  Sometimes usability testing overstates the concerns of the person behind the keyboard and understates the concerns of the stakeholders who paid for the software. 

         

        End rant. 

         

        This is a long message to Alain saying “take a look at GQM stuff” – apply it to business goals and see what happens.  ;-)

         

        Thanks,

         

        -Jeff

         


        From: agile-usability@yahoogroups.com [mailto:agile-usability@yahoogroups.com] On Behalf Of Larry Constantine
        Sent: Tuesday, April 04, 2006 3:20 PM
        To: agile-usability@yahoogroups.com
        Subject: RE: [agile-usability] Business Goals

         

        Alain wrote

        > The concept of Business Goals is pretty simple to grasp, and it seems that
        > defining them for a particular system would be a pretty lightweight thing
        > to do. Yet, this idea does not seem to have been explictly articulated and
        > stated by people like Larry Constantine and Alan Cooper.

        Good point. It' so light weight that it is easily lost as we try to be more
        "disciplined" and "comprehensive." Actually Lucy and I used to begin with
        the "essential purposes" of a system/project but gradually shifted focus to
        understanding users and tasks.

        Back to basics!

        (We actually do bring in business goals in terms of prioritizing user roles
        and tasks, but nothing like the clarity of spelling it out up front.)

        --Larry



      • Desilets, Alain
        Prioritization of user stories happens against a backdrop of an understanding of user goals, and business goals. It was from Larry & Lucy that I first learned
        Message 3 of 7 , Apr 5 6:18 AM
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          Message
          Prioritization of user stories happens against a backdrop of an understanding of user goals, and business goals.  It was from Larry & Lucy that I first learned the value of simple models that encapsulate my understanding.  To model business goals lately I’ve been using an approach my friend Julias pointed me to: GQM – short for goal question metric.  [Google around and you’ll find lots of references including a pricy Forrester Research report and an somewhat expensive book.]  Basically, if you have a business goal, ask “how would you know you were reaching this goal?”  Poke the goal long enough with questions and you’ll realize it’s either a dumb goal, or it’ll mutate into one that has some metrics that will help you understand how the goal is being reached.  A collection of goals with metrics makes up my business goal model.  The list is prioritized – or rather there are focal goals.  To understand users I’ll build both user role models and task models.  I’ll then ask stakeholder using the backdrop of the goal model to identify focal roles and tasks.  It’s much easier to identify the users the software needs to satisfy with the goal model visible.  I’ve found it makes the whole process go smoother. 
           
          -- Alain:
          Question for you. Do you work on defining the Business Goals BEFORE defining User Roles and User Tasks, or AFTER? In your paper "What Goes Up Must Come Down", you seem to be saying that high level kite-and-above level goals (which are more or less equivalent to Business Goals) should at least be partially distilled based on knowlege about the lower level goals (although as you point out, it is best to work in both top-down and bottom-up directions). But to me, Business Goals is the one thing that I believe CAN be articulated mostly upfront, and I tend to favour that approach (although I tend to favour a "middle-out" approach for lower level details).
          ---- 

           

          Again, it boils down to these sorts of models and the guidance they give.  Don’t skimp on parts of the software used for focal users engaged in focal tasks that by definition – because they’re focal – are critical to the business goals of the software.  But for not so focal users engaged in infrequent tasks, barely sufficient is the rule.  I’ve met many usability people that look for usability at any cost.  That’s just not practical – not with my money or my customer’s money.  Sometimes usability testing overstates the concerns of the person behind the keyboard and understates the concerns of the stakeholders who paid for the software.   

           

          -- Alain:

          The converse is of course also true. Agilist sometimes pay too much attention to the concerns of the "Gold Owner" (the person who pays for development), without realising in order to achieve that person's Business Goals, you HAVE to pay a lot of attention to the people behind the keyboard (or at least the focal ones).

           

          In my view, this gold customer-centric vs user-centric difference is the main source of misunderstanding between the Agile and Usability community, and the work that you (Jeff) are doing goes a long way towards bringing those two perspective together.

          ----

        • Jeff Patton
          ... I often come into a project late - after it s started. Lately I often come in to do a bit of rescue work on the user interactions. In those situations
          Message 4 of 7 , Apr 5 1:34 PM
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            --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Desilets, Alain"
            <alain.desilets@...> wrote:

            > -- Alain:
            > Question for you. Do you work on defining the Business Goals BEFORE
            > defining User Roles and User Tasks, or AFTER? In your paper "What Goes
            > Up Must Come Down", you seem to be saying that high level kite-and-above
            > level goals (which are more or less equivalent to Business Goals) should
            > at least be partially distilled based on knowlege about the lower level
            > goals (although as you point out, it is best to work in both top-down
            > and bottom-up directions). But to me, Business Goals is the one thing
            > that I believe CAN be articulated mostly upfront, and I tend to favour
            > that approach (although I tend to favour a "middle-out" approach for
            > lower level details).
            > ----

            I often come into a project late - after it's started. Lately I often
            come in to do a bit of "rescue" work on the user interactions. In
            those situations there's often an absence of business goals, or a set
            of ambiguous business goals that don't seem well connected to the
            users and scope chosen. So, I'll work bottom up to reconstruct a goal
            model from what I observe people actually building. Then review my
            observations about the business goals I see being pursued based on
            what people are actually doing. When coming in late to a project I
            might prefer to spend a bit of time with stakeholders on business
            goals first, but this sort of work is often seen as regressive -
            everyone already believes they know what the goals are. "Just get to
            work on this UI stuff! That's where we need the help." Not until I
            point out deviation from goals does rewinding and discussing a more
            concise goal model become important.

            In a greefield situation I put together goals first. But I always
            move up and down validating users and activities we choose to support
            with goals we hope to achieve. Doing this uncovers both missing users
            and tasks, and missing business goals.

            I try to avoid waterfall head - by that I mean only moving down from
            high level to lower level, insisting high level models are complete
            before moving on to lower levels, and always assuming what what done
            in a higher level phase was correct. Levarage agile feedback loops to
            validate and further refine these higher level models.

            > -- Alain:
            > The converse is of course also true. Agilist sometimes pay too
            > much attention to the concerns of the "Gold Owner" (the person who pays
            > for development), without realising in order to achieve that person's
            > Business Goals, you HAVE to pay a lot of attention to the people behind
            > the keyboard (or at least the focal ones).

            Where agilists might fall down is in the creation of these mezzenine
            level models - things like goal models, user models, task models, etc.
            All this stuff starts to smell of big design up front to some agile
            people. The thing to remember is that it's not the model that
            represents waterfall thinking, it's the way be build and work with the
            model that makes in waterfallish - and potentially risk.

            I look at user stories like leaves on a tree. I'll try to build
            simple models that start to give form to the tree - a trunk, branches,
            then finally leaves. Unfortunately in a lot of agile projects all
            that exists are user stories. Sort of like pulling all the leaves off
            the tree, cutting down and chopping up the tree, then handing you the
            leaves in a leaf bag. This leaf-bag-style story backlog is a common
            agile project smell. I spend a fair bit of time forensically
            reconstructing mezzenine level model from the leaf-bag-o-details found
            in a story backlog. Everyone's often surprised at the tree they're
            actually building - the users, tasks, and business goals they really
            chose to support.

            Thanks Alain for keeping this discussion going.

            Opinions anyone? Is anyone out there working on an agile project
            where goals seem ambiguously defined? Does this cause problems
            prioritizing and detailing user stories? Actually scratch agile from
            the previous sentances. Agile development certainly doesn't have a
            corner in the ambiguous goals market.

            -Jeff
          • Jeff Patton
            Forgot to say something - see below... ... pays ... What I didn t bring out above is that the creation of these models helps the gold owner more effectively
            Message 5 of 7 , Apr 5 1:48 PM
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              Forgot to say something - see below...

              --- In agile-usability@yahoogroups.com, "Jeff Patton" <jpatton@...> wrote:
              > > The converse is of course also true. Agilist sometimes pay too
              > > much attention to the concerns of the "Gold Owner" (the person who
              pays
              > > for development)...

              > Where agilists might fall down is in the creation of these mezzenine
              > level models - things like goal models, user models, task models, etc.

              What I didn't bring out above is that the creation of these models
              helps the "gold owner" more effectively stear the project, and makes
              the direction the project is being steared in more visible to the
              whole team. Without them, the decisions the "gold owner" make often
              seem arbitrary and subjective - at times even to themselves. These
              sorts of models are quick to create, useful tools. I'll assert that
              as a development team we're not serving our "gold owners" well if we
              don't help them with things like this.

              -Jeff
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